The annual celebration of International Women’s Day engages citizens from all corners of the globe to recognize how far women have come in society—and how much more needs to be done. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, a time for the international community to analyze the impact of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda.

International Women's Day 2018, Madagascar
International Women's Day 2018, Madagascar (USAID/Wikimedia Commons)

UNSCR 1325 was the first formal declaration made by the international community recognizing the critical role women play in peacebuilding, as well as the disparate impacts and burdens of war on women and girls. It is important to note where progress has been in the last 20 years on the WPS Agenda:

  • Progress in policy: Eighteen months ago, the United States became the first country to turn its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security into legislation through the Women, Peace and Security Act. Signed into law by President Trump in October 2017, the act promotes women’s inclusion and participation in peace processes and ensures congressional oversight in U.S. Government efforts to facilitate gender inclusive work in conflict-affected environments. As of December 2018, 79 countries have adopted a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.
  • Progress in practice: The comprehensive peace accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) in 2016 demonstrated the impact that women’s involvement can have in peace processes. Women made up 33 percent of negotiators and, aided by USIP training, facilitated at the negotiating table and with civil society, ensuring the peace process included all levels of society.
  • Progress in research and data collection. Prior to the adoption of UNSCR 1325, little to no research bolstered the argument that women contribute greatly to the advancement of peace processes. Since 2000, interactive databases, high-level reports and case studies on the role of women in peace processes have been released, directly influencing the international community’s ability to implement the WPS Agenda and gender-inclusive programming. USIP is exploring the impact of wartime sexual violence and supporting scholars while also connecting them to the policy community.  

The next steps toward progress will include overcoming:

  • Structural barriers: Even though progress has been made toward promoting gender equality, strong patriarchal norms persist around the world. The road to dismantling deeply embedded unequal structures is a long one, making the intermingling of all levels of society essential to achieving gender equality.
  • Lack of Funding: A long-time barrier to the advancement of the WPS Agenda is the low levels of funding. The 2015 Global Study on the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 highlighted the lack of financial commitments to implementing gender-inclusive policy and found that in 2015, only six percent of bilateral aid to fragile states was allocated to gender issues, with only two percent of the funds focused on peace and security.
  • The Policy & Practice Gap: While some countries may meet U.N. standards for women’s inclusion in peace processes, women’s voices are still marginalized, and women are still excluded from decision-making. The on-going peace talks between the U.S. Government and the Taliban demonstrate the difficulty of implementing a policy like the Women, Peace and Security Act. The need to create practical programming to effectively implement policy is urgent.

The WPS Agenda also needs to be more inclusive and considerate of how men and the masculinities field of study could help advance it. While much of the research and programming on gender has been focused on women, the masculinities field highlights socially constructed gender norms for men that often lead to the perpetration of violence, particularly toward women.

The U.S. Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace and Security recently hosted the “Advancing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda” forum to analyze how the study of masculinities can provide insights for the WPS Agenda. In conflict and post-conflict zones, men deal with serious mental health problems and physical complications from violence. Through mental health and rehabilitation programs, men are more likely to overcome such problems. By promoting positive masculinities, practitioners can help curb the prevalence of potential recruits to violent extremism. Research shows that peace accords and other impactful legislation are more likely to succeed when women are included. When men in positions of power embrace the role of women, the translation of policy to practice becomes more practical because women provide critical on-the-ground insight.

International Women’s Day 2019 serves as a springboard for the international community to unpack both the progress markers and barriers to fulfilling the WPS Agenda, while developing new solutions ahead of the 20th anniversary celebration.

Dr. Kathleen Kuehnast is the director of gender policy and strategy at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Mena Ayazi is a research assistant for gender policy and strategy at the Institute.

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